Despite frequent and multiple changes to the system, Google remains a major source of traffic for many bloggers. In order to maximize Google as a traffic referrer, bloggers actively participate in search engine optimization and link building practices. Yet those practices don’t have the power they once held. Due to a number of factors, we’re seeing a stark change in how Google displays its search results.
In order to make the best decisions, we should take a closer look at these changes and how they will affect future link building and SEO efforts. We can also use these factors to determine a better course of action in the future.
Panda and Penguin
In the last two years Google has issued two infamous updates. The Panda update, which Greg Henderson explained started to do away with low-quality and scraped content. This year Google issued a Penguin update, which Irfan at Real Time Tricks explained in detail, to curb widespread link-building practices. Both have changed the way bloggers approach their businesses.
In particular, link building has become much more difficult. While more blogs than ever are accepting guest posts — and I thank Joseph for the opportunity to guest post here — they’re also much more strict with what they will allow link-wise. There’s no more slipping illicit links into posts any more. They’re checked with a fine-toothed comb, so they’d better be either an editorial elaboration of a point or else a reference to a product or service.
By removing link farms from the equation and by putting bloggers on notice, Google has changed the way links work on the web. As such, it’s more difficult to build links for any blog or service. In order to get just one link you have to spend time writing a long and valuable article for someone else’s blog. That’s quite an investment.
When I’m searching Google on my desktop computer with a 24-inch monitor, I see plenty of results on the screen. Even in a search that includes three sponsored text ads atop the screen, I still see the top five organic results. Everything is laid out for me nicely, too, and so scrolling down to the next five is no problem. But the same is not true for other common computers.
In addition to my huge desktop, I also keep a Lenovo notebook PC ready for when I have to travel (or just want to leave the house). Notice the size on these notebooks: they’re 13 or 14 inches, so they’re not exactly small. Yet when I google the same terms, I see far fewer results. Unless I set the screen resolution to barely readable, I get about two organic links below the three sponsored links. It’s clear which ones are getting my attention.
Now imagine the same search on a tablet or, better yet, a smartphone. Now consider that search is moving towards mobile devices. How many organic results do you think you see on a mobile search that contains even two sponsored text ads? That means in order to get the most people to see you in the search results, you have to be No. 1 or 2. In the past that might have been do-able, but due to other Google changes it’s tougher today than ever.
Favoring the Brand
In addition to its Penguin and Panda updates, Google has also made a more gradual shift in the past few years. Amid torrid complaints, Google has caved to big brands. They have started to rank them higher in search results for terms related to their brands. Even with heavy link building, it’s difficult if not impossible to rank higher than big-name brands for these high-volume search terms.
Combine that with the mobile search issue and it’s easy to see why link building doesn’t go as far as it used to. Bloggers wanting to build links will grow for their niche terms, but that’s about it — they’re stuck in the longtail. Even if they manage to rank fourth or fifth for a high-volume term, they’re buried underneath sponsored text ads and big-brand results. Sure, they can brag about ranking on the first page of the search results, but it might not lead to any tangible gains.
When Google makes adjustments, bloggers must make their own. Unfortunately, most of the adjustments have been pure reaction. In response to Panda they’ve started writing longer posts, but many times that amounts to additional fluff. In response to Panda they’ve started allowing fewer links, but that just takes away from the blissful interconnectivity of the web.
We can become more proactive in our approaches to blogging. Instead of kowtowing to Google’s every whim, we can make ourselves less dependent on organic search results. Instead of creating longer, fluffier content, we can create content of the appropriate length and find other sources of referrals. Here are two suggestions.
1. Social media referrals. This works on multiple levels. Focusing your promotion efforts on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can greatly boost your traffic and visibility. One of my sites — the top blogs in its narrow niche — has seen a genuine spike in traffic since we nixed link building and SEO efforts in favor of Twitter promotion. In a few months we fully expect Twitter to become our No. 1 referrer.
This is good for the future in any case. There have been hints that Google will look more at social signals and less at links in future algorithm updates. Might as well get ahead of the curve and start now. Perhaps those efforts will boost a blogger’s Google ranking in due time.
2. Buy PPC ads. Those sponsored text ads atop Google results are not going away. That’s really Google’s bread and butter for revenue. Sure, they make some money when people click on your block and see their AdSense ads. But they split that revenue with publishers. When advertisers purchase AdWords, that’s all profit for Google. They really want you to buy them.
Yes, it might cost money, but link building costs time. Both are valuable resources. Yet link building, as explained above, might not yield the results you seek. Trading that time for money, in the form of PPC ads, can help you rank much higher for the terms you desire. It might be out of your budget to rank for high-volume terms, but picking a few mid-volume terms can bring in traffic.
This all comes down to the point that the web is always changing. Google in particular has changed many times in the past few years, and each change has had a different affect on bloggers. Bloggers have to make adjustments, and those adjustments don’t have to simply be reactions to what Google does. They can adjust in ways that make them less dependent on Google. It’s more difficult than just doing what Google says, but it could pay off big time in the future.